Cottage-Garden Poppies Fall Victim To The WoDs

  Cottage-Garden Poppies Fall Victim To The WoDs

Posted by FoM on April 04, 2001 at 21:23:00 PT
By Marty Hair, Knight Ridder 
Source: Washington Post 

In the new mail-order catalogue from British seed and plant merchant Thompson & Morgan, among this season's best and brightest of plants, there's a poppy called Pink Dawn. But don't bother trying to order it, or seeds of any other Papaver somniferum, from the company. Thompson & Morgan has stopped selling seeds of opium poppies to its U.S. customers.Consider this the latest skirmish in the opium poppy war, in which U.S. gardeners who grow these cottage-garden favorites are committing a federal crime.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, it is illegal to grow or possess any part of opium poppy plants except the seeds, which are available through other mail-order catalogues and in the spice aisle of grocery stores.Gardeners have long admired this annual for its beautiful flowers and ability to self-sow, so new poppy plants grow each year.Federal agents are more concerned about the seed head, or capsule, of the opium poppy, which has the milky sap that is the source of heroin.The seed heads of other varieties of poppies can't be used to make drugs, so it's okay to grow those.The DEA has asked seed companies to voluntarily stop selling opium poppies for garden or culinary use "before this situation adds to the drug abuse epidemic," according to a 1995 letter.A spokeswoman says that although the DEA does not specifically target poppy plants in home gardens, "if we get a tip or if we are making a case and poppy plants are also found, we pursue" the matter.But many gardeners who grow opium poppies may not even know they are breaking the law."People share the seeds, and none of them was aware that they're opium poppies," says one Oakland County, Mich., gardener who, like others interviewed who grow opium poppies, asked to remain anonymous.In response to the DEA, Shepherd's Garden Seeds limits sales to three seed packets of opium poppies per customer.Shepherd Ogden, owner of Cook's Garden, another popular mail-order firm, says he considers the whole thing to be ridiculous. In a phone interview, Ogden said anyone growing opium poppies for drugs would have to plant huge tracts of land, not order a couple of seed packets.It would be a better use of DEA resources to go after those major growers rather "than hassling home gardeners who are planting a few here and there," he says.Still, the prospect of getting penalized for growing the illegal plant persuaded Michael Pollan, a Connecticut writer, to stop growing opium poppies. He wrote about how he'd grown some in his own garden in Harper's magazine."I love them. I think they're great plants to grow as an annual, not as a drug. I really wish I could grow them," Pollan said recently. When his article was published in 1997, "nothing happened to me," he says, "but I became very nervous about it."Thompson & Morgan, established in 1855, continues to sell opium poppy seeds in England. The seed company changed its policy here after a U.S. customs agent questioned its incoming shipment last summer and consulted the DEA.The company withdrew the seeds in the United States because "if our records were seized by the DEA, our customers could be jeopardized," said Susan Jellinek, a horticulturist at the company's U.S. headquarters in New Jersey. "It's just not the kind of thing you want to risk." Angry customers have observed that if they wanted to get the seeds, all they'd have to do is go to the supermarket. Opium poppy seeds, which are edible, are also widely used on breads and bagels and in cakes.A number of mail-order catalogues that offer opium poppy seeds say nothing about the federal ban on growing the plant. Most gardening books don't mention it either. Opium poppies and the controversies around them, however, get extensive treatment on the Web site -- poppies have been grown at least since 2000 B.C., according to Christopher Grey-Wilson, author of "Poppies: A Guide to the Poppy Family in the Wild and in Cultivation" (Timber Press, $37.95). Opium was widely used as a narcotic to ease pain and induce sleep. Its addictive effect was not recognized in the West until after 1900, according to Grey-Wilson.One suburban Detroit resident whose garden includes opium poppies says she inherited the plants, probably sown decades ago by a previous owner. When the opium poppies bloom, they are "gorgeous," she says."People stop and say, 'Wow!' And I chuckle, because I know what they are."Complete Title: Cottage-Garden Poppies Fall Victim to the War on Drugs Source: Washington Post (DC) Author: Marty Hair, Knight RidderPublished: Thursday, April 5, 2001Copyright: 2001 The Washington Post Company Contact: letterstoed washpost.comWebsite: Articles - Poppies

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Comment #2 posted by Bruce on April 05, 2001 at 05:44:58 PT
Great Lesson
Right on Doc! You rock!
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Comment #1 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on April 05, 2001 at 05:31:23 PT:
Interesting, but Incorrect
"Federal agents are more concerned about the seed head, or capsule, of the opium poppy, which has the milky sap that is the source of heroin."No it's not! The latex of the unripe seed pod yields small amounts of morphine, codeine, papaverine (non-narcotic) and other alkaloids. It is an ancient and venerated medicine in its own right. Morphine becomes heroin (diacetylmorphine) only after it is acetylated. Chemically, this is a very simple procedure, but large amounts are necessary, as well as a lab hood, for the reagents are carcinogenic (cause malignancy). "Diamorphine" is still employed in the UK as an analgesic after heart attacks. It is more potent than morphine, and is said to be less likely to cause nausea, vomiting, constipation and hypotension (falls in blood pressure). Its assignation as Schedule I in the USA is totally arbitrary and scientifically indefensible.Papaver somniferum is a lovely flower species that Americans should be allowed to grow. The idea that masses of our citizens will suddenly turn to cultivating opium poppies to get high is absolutely ludicrous. They can addict and kill themselves just fine with alcohol and tobacco, thank you."Its addictive effect was not recognized in the West until after 1900, according to Grey-Wilson."I don't know Grey-Wilson, but he is either misquoted or ignorant. A fair amount of morphine was employed in the US Civil War (it was first isolated about 1806 in Germany), and numerous cases of dependency arose. However, they either managed on their own, or in some cases, the addiction to morphine (or chloral hydrate, or others) was successfully treated with extracts or tinctures of Indian hemp, our good friend, cannabis.Thus endeth today's lesson in history and biochemistry. 
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